Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Tao of social media

People nurse their hatreds, they coddle them as though they were favoured children and give them free rein whenever it comes to making a comment about something that is taking place in the public sphere.

People urge each other on as they deploy their creaking rhetorical constructions on social media, and when hatred is shared by someone else there is a small celebration, as though the child were having a birthday party. Candles are lit to solemnise the event and the cake of scorn is carved up and distributed among the gathered there, in the ether, in the places that are formed in innocence by electrons that animate the unsullied elements of silicon and copper. In this way we give thanks to the tiny, dark gods that keep us alive in this artificial world that we have colonised like a vengeful pantheon.

Often people will use ridicule to attack you personally if they have no answer to what you have to say. In fact, if they are overtly hostile it probably means that you have already won the argument because this is the only way they have to placate the feelings of shame and anger what you have written inspires in them. So, take courage from rudeness and spite. It means that you are stronger and have justice on your side but beware, as your children might turn bad when they grow up and kill their parents.

The way people behave on social media bleeds in my imagination into other questions that preoccupy me as I sit, closeted and alone, before the windows that look out over the city’s flashing skyline. I am reminded of a conventional type of compliment that is used to describe a book where you say that it is "challenging". This reminds me, in turn, that there used to be an event every year in Sydney called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which borrows from the same quiver of ideas used to make authors feel good about themselves and to flatter audiences with praise.

But there's actually no truth in either of these formulations. Those arrows are warped and can fly neither straight nor very far. What people precisely do not want is to be challenged. What they want are the same, comforting routines that they have become used to consuming every day of the week, year in and year out. The last thing people want is to be challenged or asked to think for themselves. What people want is the familiar. The usual. The normal. The safe.

And the cultural elites who compliment themselves by giving credit to authors who use language in creative ways – authors who try to create their own realities by endowing the words that they use in their texts with new meanings – are equally addicted to the routine, the normal, and the bland when it comes to politics. They, too, merely follow a line given to them by the policy wonks in the major political parties, people who, themselves, wouldn’t recognise originality if it was thrown at their faces like a raw fish.

The result is that a small coterie of experts is left in charge of the judging of high culture but their opinions lack credibility because they are so completely beholden to ideologues for their political opinions that the mainstream as embodied by the tabloid press ridicules them or ignores them. The situation is particularly bad because so much of what passes for deserving of the praise of this class of pundit or seer is only good in the sense that it mimics their political ideas, while the art that is used to convey them is often of poor quality. But still it gets applauded by the high priests of Oz culture. (They do sometimes get it right, but mostly it seems by accident rather than by dint of sound principles.)

This is why artists are mostly poor and we are mostly unhappy. It is also why Hollywood studios produce sequel after sequel in an effort to separate people from their money. So the doors to futurity stay closed because we cannot be bothered to knock, and we sit, afraid and alone, in silence, as we glumly imagine the rest of the world alive with celebration. In this context culture becomes merely a series of opportunities to enact revenge on others on account of our own suffering.

No comments: